Are You Coming Home, I Mean Really Coming Home?

Prodigal_Son.jpg.540xThat’s me, over there in the background, to the right. I’m the “good” son, or daughter, as the case may be. Of course that’s only what I “like” to think of myself.  And I suspect that you probably think of yourself that way too if you really think about it.

We of course love the story of the prodigal son, and we nod wisely as we immediately “get” the lesson–God forgives us and we can always come home to our Father again, and again if need be. The saving of a soul is indeed something to rejoice about.

But we don’t usually think of ourselves as that sinner who squandered so much and came home penniless and humbled, begging to be treated as no better than  a workman on his father’s estate. We don’t see ourselves as being THAT mired in sin.

That is why, when we really think about it, we sympathize with the elder son who stayed home, followed the rules, and was a constant delight to his father. Yet no celebrations are begun for him, no praise comes his way. He feels as we would feel, unnoticed and unappreciated.

Think about it. There is no day when the Church celebrates all us “good” people. We are not honored by feasts and honors for our perfect attendance at mass, or our faithful pledge of money each week.

We think we are pretty darn nice don’t we? And nothing in this story seeks to dispel that notion either. Yet.

Yet the gospel parable of the prodigal son is meant for us. And it takes a lot of prodding and prying for most of us to realize that we have much to ask forgiveness for.

We have been given a most beautiful planet, one filled with riches beyond measure. Yet, we squander than gift every day, with our pollution and our waste. We rip up rain forests and destroy wetlands and coral reefs. And we protest: “I’m not doing that!” But we aren’t doing anything to stop it either.

We have been given the means to construct a world that is just and fair to everyone, one that can feed and house, clothe, educate, protect from disease, every human upon it. Yet we don’t, preferring to live by silly mantras that promote individual initiative which are not really true and result in millions being left out of a place at the table of life. And we protest, “I’m not doing that!” But we allow it to happen as we find ourselves too busy with carpools and basketball games.

We are squandering our birthright as human citizen upon planet Earth. We dirty her air and water and ruin her lands. We hunt her animals to extinction, or push them out of existence by our greed. We disturb the delicate balances that support a full and vibrant co-existence that results in a well-functioning world that supports all of its life.

We in democratic states are offered the means to create a government that is fair for all its citizens, yet we cannot find the time to actually confront those who have made a career of being government and no longer respond to our needs and wishes, but only those who pay them to maintain an unequal distribution of wealth and cater to the needs of the few but exceedingly wealthy.

Our sins put those of the prodigal son to shame. We refuse to internalize the words of Paul, “we implore you on behalf of Christ to be reconciled to God.” We stand afar off and nod at the obvious sinner, secure in our pretense of goodness, when we are the sinners who should be weeping in the arms of our father, begging to be treated as the worst workman in the field.

Are we ready to come home? Are you? Our God awaits us with open arms. It is time we shouldered our responsibilities and do God’s bidding. For surely justice and fairness are the banner He would have us carry.

Are we ready to really come home?

Amen.

 

A New Look at Romans 1:26-27

This is a reprint of a post from Nota Bene:

I believe it is the most interesting and convincing argument I have yet seen on the issue of homosexuality and “Paul’s” alleged beliefs about it. It is compelling in my opinion.

Romans

Whenever I’m debating with someone who authoritatively declares that the Bible condemns homosexuality, and who cites the infamous Romans 1:26-27 as proof, I almost always offer this rejoinder: “What do you make of the vocative at the beginning of Romans 2?”

The question is admittedly pretentious on my part but I’ve found it effective, because those often most eager to wield the Bible as an authoritative weapon are also often those who have read it only in translation, and not very closely at that.

But it’s not an idle question.


Anyone who has engaged the issue of sexuality and the Bible has at some point contended with Romans 1:26-27, in the NRSV: “For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.”

Sounds pretty bad, and indeed, so does the entire last half of the first chapter of Romans. Who, broadly, is being described here? Most agree it’s the Gentiles, and most agree that what is being represented here is boilerplate, Hellenistic Jewish material that attacks the Gentiles. But the condemnatory nature of the verses from 1:18-32 also fits awkwardly, if at all, with the spirit of the rest of the epistle, which goes from talking about the “uprightness of God” in the early verses to suddenly referring to the “anger of God” here, an anger that God uses to “hand over” these people to all manner of horrible behaviors.

But then, they’re Gentiles. They’re rotten, horrible individuals. Did you hear the sorts of things they do? In fact, as pointed out by scholar Calvin Porter, “they” recurs in this section with striking concentration, with repetition of the third-person pronoun αὐτός thirteen times, the reflexive (“themselves”) once, and third-person plural verbs over and over: “No other section of Romans contains such a concentration,” he observes.

What’s even more striking, notes Porter, is what comes next: an abrupt change to the second person in Romans 2:1:

“Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.”

Here, then, is the vocative in the Greek, “Oh man,” a grammatical case used for direct address: ὦ ἄνθρωπε. And this takes us to the question I have posed to those who repeat 1:26-27 in condemnation. Who’s the ἄνθρωπος that Paul’s addressing here?

It’s actually a very big question.

Scholarship has been preoccupied often with the content of verses 1:26-27 to the distraction of its context. Scholars such as James Miller and Mark D. Smith have gone back and forth as to whether the behavior described in those verses can be considered “homosexual” from our culture’s standpoint, or whether they refer to something else entirely. But an even more interesting angle surfaced in Roy Bowen Ward’s entry into the fray: “It is still open to question whether these two verses represent Paul’s voice or the voice of a rhetorical spokesperson in Rom 1:18-32, whom the apostle criticizes beginning in Rom 2:1.”

That’s right. Some scholarship of late, of which Porter’s article is the most thorough example, has noted that Romans 1:18-32 does not represent Paul’s view, but the prevailing view of Gentiles among many Jews at the time, which this apostle to the Gentiles feels compelled to refute. Building off of the scholarship of J.C. O’Neill (who calls it “a traditional tract which belongs essentially to the missionary literature of Hellenistic Judaism”) and E.P. Sanders (who explains that “Paul takes over to an unusual degree homiletical material from Diaspora Judaism”), Porter ultimately concludes that “in 2:1-16, as well as through Romans as a whole, Paul, as part of his Gentile mission, challenges, argues against, and refutes both the content of the discourse and the practice of using such discourses. If that is the case then the ideas in Rom. 1.18-32 are not Paul’s. They are ideas which obstruct Paul’s Gentile mission theology and practice.”

Other explanations of what ὦ ἄνθρωπε is doing here are less satisfactory. Some have suggested that Paul is sincerely making these condemnations, stressing here (but only here) God’s anger instead of his kindness (as in 2:4), and then he imagines some onlooker applauding what he’s saying and turns to address him, condemning him for judging but somehow still agreeing with the content of what was just said.

Porter’s argument (which he thoroughly supports with rhetorical models from antiquity) makes much more sense: that the arguments present in the last half of Romans 1 were typical of those made by Hellenistic Jews to distinguish themselves from the Gentiles (thus the repeated use of “they” as noted before), and Paul, as an apostle to the Gentiles, finds this condemnation problematic and thus seeks to refute it, leading up ultimately to his similar conclusion in Romans 14:13, using strikingly similar language to that in 2:1: “Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another.”

Paul goes on to offer advice on healing the rifts between Jew and Gentile, so Porter’s reading is compelling, and certainly the best I’ve seen for answering the question of who’s being addressed in 2:1: “The shift to the direct address, the second person singular, along with the coordinating conjunction, διό, indicates that the reader who agrees with or is responsible for 1.18-32 is now the person addressed.”

Of course, there will be all sorts of arguments apologizing for the words of 2:1 so that one can keep the words of 1:26-27 as a straight-up, unambiguous condemnation, which one can then rely upon to rationalize all manner of discrimination against gays and lesbians. But the flurry of scholarship on this score, not to mention all of that preoccupied with the words of 1:26-27 themselves, should in the very least make it clear that it’s not all that clear.

It’s yet another example of how close study of the Bible – in this case, the function of a single word – raises far more questions than it does answers.

Striving to Be One Body

seastarsWe know that Paul did not know Jesus in the flesh. He tells us that, and informs us that he has not received the Gospel from other sources, oral traditions or some writing, but has in fact been privileged to receive the Gospel firsthand as revelation from Christ.

Paul, it seems, takes this knowledge with great respect, and from time to time, he clearly points out when he is talking from his own conclusions, and when he is speaking directly from what he received.

In 1 Cor 12: 12-30, we receive from Paul no sense that his conclusions about the body of Christ are his own ideas. Rather his instruction is clear and precise. We are all of the body, and whatever part we have in the body, we are a necessary part of that whole, and but for us, there can be no wholeness. All parts are of equal value, even though some parts garner more attention than others. All gifts of the Spirit are essential to the full and complete functioning of the organism.

Speaking to the Corinthians, these words must have made much sense, for everyone knows that a body missing a foot or the ability to hear, or a hand or an eye, is dysfunctional to one degree or another. Paul’s larger point, that Jew or Gentile, slave or free, man or woman, we are all part of the essential whole, was no doubt more difficult to digest. . Speaking to either Jews whom he wished to convert to the new movement, or to Gentiles, whom he wished to reassure, Paul’s words (or Jesus’ words if we may be so bold) ring right and true to us today.

We wonder how it was in  Colonial America that these words did not strike deep at the heart of the slave owner, or the Puritan who was all too quick to dismiss as wicked the Catholic or the Quaker. We wonder how they missed the obvious, that ALL are necessary to the proper functioning of the good body.

Surely they themselves, Puritans especially, were most familiar with being shunned for their unfit beliefs and practices? Surely they saw themselves in the stead of slaves or Gentiles whom Paul welcomed as equally important members of the new community of Christ.

Yet, of course, they most certainly did not see the larger point Paul makes, nor do they realize that to the Gentiles of Corinth, the majority no doubt of that city, they were being asked to sit side by side with slaves or former slaves as equals. Were they not being asked to see something so much bigger than we might today? Today, we say, well of course, EVERYBODY knows that there is no rightful distinction between people!

Yet, there is though we are loathe to admit it. We separate people into groups of us and them, every single day. Paul’s listeners were being asked to stretch their minds around a larger concept, a concept that is most obvious to us today.

Yet, we believe that one of the strengths of scripture, is that however you envision it, whether as the actual perfect word of God, or as the inspired word of God, or as the honest, truthful, and thoughtful beliefs inspired by the Spirit of otherwise fallible humans, one of the things we revere most about scripture is its timelessness. Wisdom literature is noted for its ability to inspire us hundreds and thousands of years after the fact, in new and very different circumstances.

We read scripture asking it to speak to us today, in our lives, in our society.

And if we apply that to Paul’s remarks in Corinthians, are we not being asked to stretch ourselves out of our comfort zone as well?

What is the body? If we believe that our God is the God of all peoples in all places, in all circumstances, then the faith tradition is not important, and the social mores are not important, nor the various orientations of our peoples are not important. Atheists, and Muslims, Sikhs, and Transgenders, Native Earth Religions and Pagan belief systems, are not ours to reject, for they too are part of the body, and necessarily part of a well-functioning one. If there is to be rejection, it is far beyond our poor efforts to comprehend, and far beyond our choices to judge.

Is that not the horizon we are asked today to seek? To see all people as God’s people, with gifts to offer us and each other, with each giving an essential something that is necessary if we are to be complete. This is not about actions that are harmful to others–we intuitively realize that we must reject actual harm offered by anyone to others. We are talking about who people ARE as beings.

We reject people for being “different” or for not following the social mores that we deem appropriate at our peril. For we are talking about excising a portion of the body. We are choosing to be less than fully human in our humanness, and in that, we are making the  body dysfunctional.

Paul calls us to consider again the Body before we reject those who seem for whatever reason, different, alien, or wrong-thinking.

Amen.

A Tale of Two Women

I confess that I am puzzled by the inclusion of 1Kings 17: 10-16 along with Mk 12: 38-44. They seem to be very different stories with very different lessons.

As you recall, in Kings, Elijah stops a woman gathering sticks and asks for a drink of water. She stops her work and begins to comply when he asks for bread as well.

She tells him she has only a bit of flour and a small portion of oil left, just enough for one more meal for her son and herself. After this, she expects to die from starvation.

Elijah tells her to bring him the cake anyway and then feed herself and her son, for the Lord will not let the flour be gone nor the oil. Indeed, neither went empty for an entire year.

In Mark, we have the famous story of the widow who enters the temple and gives her last two coins to the treasury while the rich give great amounts. Jesus reminds that she has given of all she had while they give only of their excess.

Both deal with the end of things. The end of the flour and oil, and the end of one’s entire savings. Both women would appear destitute. And indeed we do learn somewhat different lessons.

From the widow in Kings we learn that when we are near the end of our ability to soldier on, relief will come. We some how or from some one, receive the strength to go on. Just at the moment when we feel we cannot endure one second more, we find that we can. All of us have had occasion to marvel at someone who manages to keep going when things seem hopeless.

During the last few years we have witnessed countless people who have lost jobs, fallen behind on their mortgages and literally live hand to mouth each and every day. How often do they lament that they have no idea how they can pay this bill or find enough to purchase food next week? Yet they do, and they manage albeit in great difficulty. Until one day, one day, the new job comes or the bank finally agrees to a refinance. The dark days are over.

The widow in Kings reminds us that we must never give up hope and our faith that better days will come, that we can endure this present pain, that God continues to love and uphold us and we will, with God’s help, find a way.

In Mark, we have a woman who is voiceless in her society. She is the prey of the rich scribes and Pharisees for she has been taught that her first obligation is not to her own well-being, but to the Temple. She may well have given up the money for food that day. She shows us in her simple piety what true giving is all about.

The rich are proud of their foundations and their philanthropy. Many of us are proud of our service on Thanksgiving at a soup kitchen. Similarly we might be proud of the commitments we make to our churches, contributing to the fund that builds the new kitchen, or the new landscaping. We too, feel good when we drop our dollar in the kettles outside the stores at Christmas time.

But we are throwing our excess into the Temple kettle. We are almost never giving away that which will cause us great suffering or loss.

And the lesson is not that we should. An argument could be made that the widow in Mark is to be lamented that she would risk her very life in service to the Temple. Her first duty was to at least live so that she might guide others to a greater understanding of charity and love for her fellow beings. Similarly we should not give to the point where we become an unnecessary burden on society ourselves.

What we should learn from this teaching is that we should not think ourselves esteemed for our small acts. They should be not things to crow about but things that we do as often as we are able. If we cannot give greatly in funds, and even if we can, we should be looking for ways to serve those least among us with our time, and our compassion.

The widow in Mark should shame us as to our own lack of thinking when we casually make our offerings. She should shame us into remembering that our offerings are not just monetary but may come in many forms. We are resourceful, as the widow in Kings reminds us. God will help us if we call upon Him. We will find a way.

Amen.

 

Loving in Action

Last Wednesday I was driving to the pool for my swim. I travel a good portion of the way on US70. No sooner had I entered onto the freeway that I was ushered off by police barricades.

As I traveled along the frontage road with a growing number of vehicles, I realized that I would sooner or later come upon the scene of an accident, obviously a very bad one.

When I saw the wreckage, there was no doubt in my mind that lives had been lost. The next day, reading the newspaper account, I learned that a car had veered across into the oncoming traffic, gone airborne and plowed through another vehicle. A mother and son, died when this vehicle tore off the roof of their car and destroyed the entire front end.

I was confronted, as we all are periodically, with the fragility of life and just how little control we have over it. This woman and child were doing nothing wrong. They were obeying the traffic rules. Yet in moments their lives were hideously ended.

They had no time to reflect on a life well or ill lived. No time probably to even say a short prayer. They were no more.

Nothing in this life is guaranteed. Our wealth can be snatched from us in mere moments due to an economic catastrophe. Our health can decline with suddenness or with relentless deterioration. Our loved ones can depart willingly or otherwise. So too our friends. We may lose jobs, homes, beauty, pets. We can lose our country to war or invasion. We can lose our world to pollution.

The great Shema of the Jewish faith teaches us that what is most important in our lives can only be God.

“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone!
Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God,
with all your heart,
and with all your soul,
and with all your strength.

We are similarly reminded in the Psalm 18:

R. (2) I love you, Lord, my strength.
I love you, O LORD, my strength,
O LORD, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer.
R. I love you, Lord, my strength.
My God, my rock of refuge,
my shield, the horn of my salvation, my stronghold!
Praised be the LORD, I exclaim,
and I am safe from my enemies.
R. I love you, Lord, my strength.
The LORD lives! And blessed be my rock!

What is it that we are reminded? While all is temporary, subject to loss or change, only God is forever. Only God can never be taken from us. Only God is faithful, ever-loving, ever-present. You can be denied your bodily freedom either through incarceration or disease, but no one can take God from you. No one can eradicate your belief or your love.

In the end, God is all you have. It is why I so feel sorrow for those who deny God or deny the possibility. I do not feel sorrow because they will be eternally apart from God, because I don’t lay such a human punishment upon them. I refuse to believe that God works in that manner. In any case, it is God who will decide such things, not me.

What I sorrow for is the loss of comfort God affords us. We are never alone. And as thinking beings, surely each of us has at some moment realized that no other human being can take away the utter aloneness that being an individual entails. We are shaken to our core when we realize that no spouse, child, parent, or friend can ever penetrate our inmost being. We remain self-contained vessels. The agony of such a realization is only ameliorated when we realize that God can and does penetrate. God does live with us. God does hold us in love through the trials of life.

Jesus said that this Shema was the greatest commandment. The next was to love our neighbor as ourselves. On these two rest all the others.

As we approach Tuesday and exercise our responsibilities as citizens to elect leadership for our country, we should remember this. We love God and we express that love by loving our brothers and sisters in this country and around the world. To love our neighbor means to empathize, to sympathize, and finally to be compassionate toward our neighbor. We must take on his and her burdens and make them our own. We must not think just of ourselves and our own well-being but what is best for the greater good.

No better explanation of this can be found than at my dear friend Tim’s blog, Straight-Friendly. He explains the differences between empathy, sympathy and compassion far better than I, and reminds us that we owe it to ourselves and most especially to God to make our choices on Tuesday wisely and with a spiritual vision guiding us.

May God bless you in your choosing.

Amen.

Where Will You Sit?

As I listened to Mark 10: 35-45 this morning, a number of thoughts flooded my mind. I am reminded of the Republicans and their meme on the President’s approach to foreign policy:

“He leads from behind,” they charge, and they don’t mean it as a compliment.

Recently I reviewed a book here called Alone with a Jihadist, in which the author posited rather convincingly that the attempt by the evangelical religious right to secure political power in order to further the aims of their version of God’s will, was unbiblical and certainly anti-Jesus.

Jesus, certainly in the passage from Mark, and generally throughout the Gospels, presents a picture of leadership that is not directed at power and authority. Jesus seeks no power much to the chagrin occasionally of his followers. He seeks no authority over others, and certainly not over his enemies of the day.

He seeks to serve. And he teaches service.

To lead from behind is in a sense very Jesus-like. Such an idea of course would drive the religious right insane at the mere thought because they have decided to believe and push the idea that the President is the antithesis of a Godly man. Many argue that he is in the arms of Satan himself, and is in the process destroying all that is Godly about America.

But Jesus led from behind. What I mean by that is that Jesus taught that the essence of love of God was service to God’s children. And the essence of service is empowerment. It is helping others to help themselves by raising up their value and abilities to equality with those around them. When Jesus cures and forgives, he do so to return people to their rightful place as equals within their society. He empowers them to take their place in the world with their heads up once again.

He does not empower them in the sense that he gives them tools to rule over others. That is not what the Kingdom of God is about. He gives them the tools by his example, that they are to express to everyone they meet from that day forward. The Kingdom has nothing to do with power exerted OVER people, but rather it lifts people up to be fully functioning people of God.

Similarly, Aaron Taylor, when he suggests that it is not the place of a true Christian to seize political power for the purpose of bringing into existence some man-made government in their image of God, he is merely restating what Jesus announced to poor John and James when they asked Jesus to recognize their importance in the coming Kingdom. Jesus said, no, this is not what my Kingdom is about. You will suffer for my sake, but your reward is not honor and power over others, but the continuing opportunity to serve all those in need.

One can argue whether Jesus intended to set up a new church and if John and James and the rest of the disciples were being instructed on how that church was to be organized. I personally don’t believe, based on my examination of the literature regarding this issue, that Jesus had any such intention to set up a new church. He was and remained a Jew in the Jewish faith until his death. What he wished to do, was to bring Judaism back to its true focus, and that was the one he preached to everyone who would listen.

But he certainly was aware that those he left behind had a message to continue to share, and he made sure that his followers understood his teaching in all its revolutionary significance. You lead by serving.

Where will you sit?

 

How To Screw Up the Meaning

 

 

Today’s readings are pretty darn straight forward. In Numbers (11:25-29) Moses is informed that a couple of elders are prophesying in his name although they were not in the tent with the other elders who were commissioned by God.

In Mark,  (9: 38-43) Jesus is similarly informed that someone is casting out demons in his name.

In both cases, the expectation is that this unauthorized behavior should be stopped immediately. In neither case is this done. Instead, both tell their followers that if they are doing the right thing, let them continue.

This should teach us that everyone doesn’t have to be “like us” to do good in the world. We should honor the good period. This should give us renewed hope and dedication to trying, where ever we can, points of agreement with those we are at odds with, and cooperating on at least those issues where we find  that agreement.

And indeed, our priest this morning made the first point. God teaches us that “not only Catholics” but Protestants, Jews, Muslims, and even non-believers can do good things. Gosh I never would have guessed!

He then went on to run off the tracks. “Please don’t get the wrong idea here. Jesus was no relativist. He wasn’t saying all faiths are equal like so many say today.”

He then went off on a tangent based on the rest of Mark’s gospel reading:

“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,
it would be better for him if a great millstone
were put around his neck
and he were thrown into the sea.
If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.
It is better for you to enter into life maimed
than with two hands to go into Gehenna,
into the unquenchable fire.
And if your foot causes you to sin, cut if off.
It is better for you to enter into life crippled
than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna.
And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.
Better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye
than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna,
where ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.”

Then, he (the priest) explained that such sin as depicted here must be serious sin. He decided it must have to do with  alcohol and drug abuse, pornography, adultery, and things such as this. He then went on to explain that we must be always on guard against such “personal” sin, and protect our eternal souls against these persistent pernicious sins.

Alas, the priest forgot entirely the other reading: James.

James clearly speaks to the wealthy of his time:

Come now, you rich, weep and wail over your impending miseries.
Your wealth has rotted away, your clothes have become moth-eaten,
your gold and silver have corroded,
and that corrosion will be a testimony against you;
it will devour your flesh like a fire.
You have stored up treasure for the last days.
Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers
who harvested your fields are crying aloud;
and the cries of the harvesters
have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.
You have lived on earth in luxury and pleasure;
you have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter.
You have condemned;
you have murdered the righteous one;
he offers you no resistance.

Since Jesus in his remarks in Mark makes no statement of what things should cause us to “pluck out our eye”, then perhaps there is a reason that James discourse is part of the liturgy to be read with Mark’s gospel.

James makes no bones about it. The rich, who live in splendor while withholding wages from those who work them are the ones who will be devoured in the fires that Jesus refers to as Gehenna.

This is not a new concept, and it is one that Jesus repeatedly referred to. His “preferential option” for the poor, God’s preferential option, causes that to be the great sin we must guard against. Jesus warns–don’t cause these “little ones” to sin (children were the least in the world and are synonymous with the poor). One causes them to sin by setting as an example a life of wealth and privilege all the while ignoring the plight of those less fortunate. It is teaching this capitalistic winner-take-all, survival of the fittest, to the victor belong the spoils, kind of mentality that places one in dire circumstances at judgment day.

These readings are about cooperation, love, caring, compassion, brotherhood and sisterhood. They are uplifting and guiding. They are not some self-centered directive to beware of serious sin for our own good, although our own good may well be in the balance. They help us to look outward rather than inward.

Amen.

 

 

It’s Time to Ask Aright

It seems axiomatic at this point in our political lives, that Christian values are compromised by most of our leaders most of the time.

Now I could quickly say, there is nothing wrong in this, since I firmly believe in the separation of church and state, and therefore don’t require any politician to adhere to so-called “Christian” values.

The trouble is that those values which I find embodied in Matthew 25:35-37:

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you made me welcome, lacking clothes and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me.

are shared by most religions on Earth. They are embodied in the near universal saying “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

I, as some of you know, blog during the week about all things political (See “my other blogs” along sidebar). I note that while everyone gives lip service to God, lying has become an art form.

I wonder how that squares with intense self-identification as a Christian. Take Mr. Romney for instance. He is by all accounts a devout Mormon. He  is as a bishop in his church and went on the usual two-year missionary exercise. He donates reportedly quite extensively to it. While I know little about the actual theology of Mormonism, I seriously assume that truth-telling is honored as a virtue and lying is considered sinful.

Yet, each week a certain political pundit lists in detail with proper linkage Mr. Romney’s untruths of the week. These are no small white lies, but are statements of stark lie, used apparently to paint a picture of the President that is untrue and designed to reach a particular audience who wish hear such denigration.  (I’m not saying the other side is devoid of such practices, but independent fact-finders declare that the most egregious number and quality are found coming from Mr. Romney and his party.)

I ask myself how this squares with a man who professes such a strong and dedicated faith?

The only answer I have found was a couple of days ago, one writer noted, and I paraphrase:

Of course Mormonism doesn’t condone lying. However, Mr. Romney is like so many others. Politics is a dirty business, and one “renders unto Caesar that which belongs to Caesar.”

In other words, since politics has been a dirty game, everyone must play it on that level.  Or, the “ends justify the means”.

Politicians must it seems, tell themselves that “once this is all over, I’ll govern by the values I really do hold, not the one’s I’m forced to ignore right now in order to win.”

Is this an excuse?

I rather doubt it. Rather, evil begets evil and every disorder. It becomes easier to make another exception. It becomes easier to find the “ends” more and more essential and thus the means slide further in to the abyss of sin.

We so far, have not decried this. Oh sure, we say we hate the “negative” ads, yet apparently studies show that they must work. How else would otherwise fairly bright people continue to pour millions of dollars into their production and use?

We demand that our children “tell the truth” and we stand by silently as our leaders taking lying to the highest art form yet imagined. We expect truth from our friends and our family, yet we expect politicians to spew “rhetoric” and we justify our ignoring most of the political season for just this reason. It’s our excuse for not being involved.

“They are all just trying to get re-elected. They all lie. They will say anything for a contribution. They talk out of both sides of their mouths.”  These are just some of the things we say to ourselves and each other.

Yet, by this passive response, we enhance the probability that this sort of thing continues. We go with the flow as it were. Until we hold our politicians accountable in a real way, we will reap the state of our Union.

If we want politicians to tell us the truth, we must reward truth and punish falsehood. The ballot box is our weapon. We must state unequivocally that we will consider any bold faced lie reason alone to disqualify one for office. We will work hard for those who deal honestly with us, and with their fellow congressmen and women. We expect compromise on big problems; we expect politicians to work for the common good, not special interests. We value honest in government and we will tolerate nothing less.

Are you  as James suggested:

Where do the wars
and where do the conflicts among you come from?
Is it not from your passions
that make war within your members?
You covet but do not possess.
You kill and envy but you cannot obtain;
you fight and wage war.
You do not possess because you do not ask.
You ask but do not receive,
because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. Ja. 4:1-3

Are we subject to every glowing offer made because it is what WE want to hear for our own selfish interests? Or are we asking rightly?

Amen.

Who Do You Say That I Am?

The answer to that question determines a lot doesn’t it?

We are all familiar with the words of Mark 8: 27, and we know the answer that Peter Simon gave, “You are the Christ.”

Yet, if we talk to people of faith, surely we will get many varied pictures of exactly who this Christ is.

To some he is the suffering atonement that gains our place in heaven.

To others he is the radical street politician who turns the world and its assumptions on its ear and presents us with a new way to see each other.

To some he is brother, best friend, constant companion, always available in our times of need to comfort us, reminding us of God’s eternal love.

He is no doubt all these things, and much more. Our answer to the question though dictates I would argue much about ourselves and what we are prepared to DO in His name.

I have been digesting something I read last week, well, ever since I read it. It went something like this:

“Do you really think that God will think better of those who are less welcoming than those who are too welcoming?”

In other words, some tell us we are too tolerant of things and people they consider acting or being in ways that they define as not Godly. So they reject them or their ideas. Not obviously of course; they use the Christian safety valve–“I hate the sin, NOT the sinner!”, they smartly remark. But of course, it looks the same, feels the same, and results in the same–rejection.

And you can’t say that we weren’t warned. When Peter finds Jesus’ teaching about suffering unacceptable to happen to God’s Son, Jesus explains:

” You are thinking not as God thinks, but as human beings think!”

So we know that God doesn’t think as we do. There are many examples of this of course through out the scriptures where God acts in ways that confound us and are so very different that what we would expect. Yet somehow, many of us seem to think that somehow we have “cracked the code” as it were. We feel competent to speak for God on issues not mentioned in the bible at all, or if they are, in ways that are so different to the situation of today as to be dangerous to apply.

Since we are woefully inadequate in much of our understanding of the culture of those times, we should be dubious in applying rules and “laws” designed to deal with very specific problems of the day. This has been proven again and again as it relates to Paul’s letters which are unarguably often addressed to A faith community, and one that is suffering specific problems, not all of which we are necessarily aware of. Paul’s statements must be taken with the proverbial “grain of salt” when they relate to human-created social relationships. After all, Paul seemed rather certain that most of his flock would live to see the returned Christ. What else might he have been in error about?

In any case, we seem to be on solid firm ground when we adhere to the actual teachings of Christ, and they the teachings,  universally point that God thinks about love first and foremost. What grows love, what spreads love, what enhances and purifies love? When we are unsure about how to respond to some new or  even old social arrangement or thinking, we should place it up against the standard of love.

Does it further it or deny it? Does it bring all peoples in closer communion or divide us?

Would it be a good thing for God to spread his love through only one vehicle, or would it be helpful to reach out to disparate peoples in disparate lands and cultures and use those things that were normative to their environment to grow his loving human family?

Who are you? Are you a follower of love?

Amen.

Just Live It

Nothing hits me harder frankly than James 1: 22

Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deluding yourself.”

I suppose you can just as quickly come to the question of the age-old Protestant-Catholic dispute about justification by faith or by works.

Indeed, I used to read about that controversy a lot, and I studied the issue, and suddenly with perfect clarity, the answer seemed obvious to me. We are indeed justified by faith alone, but it is the outward manifestation of good works that announces to both ourselves and the world that there has indeed been an inner conversion. In other words the willingness and desire to do good works bespeaks that the conversion is real.

We, in this country, are mired in a war of religious doctrines and opinions. We are notified by the “Religious Right” that they have rightly understood God’s wishes and are determined to implement “for the good” of the world, whether the world agrees or not. They believe that they have the correct determination of scripture, and the correct extrapolation into today’s complicated and intricate fabric of society of what is “right”, what is “good” and more importantly, what is “evil”.

They preach sacredness of life. They preach sacredness of family. Somewhere in there, they conflate the bible with government and conclude that God desires us to have certain freedoms, though I am hard pressed to envision God as wanting us to have a right to have weaponry on our hip as we enter the supermarket.

They define those points to us as well. Life is actual biological conception. They tell us that life “starts” there. They tell us that under no circumstances can we interfere with that life. We must bring it to birth. Those who are “intellectually honest” if there is such a thing in the religious right, make no exceptions. Life for them is reduced to a zygote with “potentiality”.

If you ask them if they are willing to support medical care for pregnant women, prenatal vitamins, housing, clothing, food allowances, they are not so sure. If you ask them what steps they are willing to take to support that new life, such as day care, and food, enrichment of the environment, well, they are not so sure. If you ask them about quality schools for the disadvantaged child, health care, and cultural enrichment, they begin to wander away. If you ask them about health care, mental health care during adult life, senior health care, housing, food, and so forth, they are shutting you out and down the street. Life has been reduced for them to this moment in time when sperm meets egg.

If you ask them to define family, they surely will. They will tell you that it is a man and a woman and their natural offspring, or perhaps adopted children. Nothing else is family. Religious men and women who live in community are not “family” nor are gay men and women living in monogamous relationships, even when those relationships are decades long and evoke exacting the hoped for caring and support that they would desire in that “traditional” family unit.

They will preach family values while accepting that they themselves and their friends have been married multiple times, given birth out-of-wedlock, engaged in adultery. They will admit to being sinners, yet still accord themselves higher status for preaching a doctrine that others find odious and stifling of true human dignity and that they themselves have not practiced.

Jesus quoted Isaiah 29: 13

This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines human precepts.
You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.”

Jesus points out that the literal “laws” as given by Moses, fall away in the face of God’s overreaching law of love and community. We are to love each other, care for each other. When we go beyond that to presuppose God’s desires in our modern world, declaring that some are bad and evil for not living up to our “moral laws” too often those moral laws are nothing more than human precepts, human traditions.

We need to stop being preachers and become livers of the faith we claim. We teach by example much more successfully than we do by word. It is the life well lived that is emulated by others, that others look up to as models for themselves. And there is nothing to admire in the person who lives one way, and dodges the issue by proclaiming himself a sinner, thereby absolving himself and giving him the right (so he thinks) to condemn others. If you knew the truth, you would live it. To proclaim it only is not to begin to know it.

Be doers of the Word.

Amen.

 

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